Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is responsible for the increasingly violent atmosphere at his rallies -- there is no way around that.
Despite his supporters' claims that anti-Trump protesters in Chicago and Dayton, Ohio, broke the law and tried to infringe on their candidate's First Amendment rights, the fact is that Trump has been fanning the flames of violence at his rallies for quite some time.
As with many of his antics during this election season, Trump has denied responsibility for any of it. He has described his rallies as being "love-fests," only to turn around and suggest that these same "love"-oriented supporters will "riot" if he wins the popular vote but doesn't become the party's nominee for president, BBC reports.
Now, to be fair, the events in Chicago and Dayton were not entirely Trump's fault. There is now evidence that left-wing group MoveOn.org was at least partially involved in setting up the protests at the Chicago event, and Trump's individual supporters who instigated the violence at these events should definitely be held accountable for their actions. However, Trump's outright approval of such violence and incendiary remarks about protesters are no doubt the catalysts for his supporters' actions.
Trump's disdain towards protesters -- as well as journalists and members of the media -- at his rallies has been going on since 2015 and was ramped up by the candidate in the run-up to the Iowa caucuses.
After a November 2015 rally event, in which his supporters shoved, tackled and punched a protester, Trump told Fox News, "Maybe [the protester] should have been roughed up."
Trump, in no uncertain terms, admitted that he condones violence at his rallies. And this wasn't the last time he did so.
"... [I]f you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them," Trump told his supporters at a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Feb. 1, according to Patch.com
"I will pay for the legal fees," he added. "I promise. They won’t be so much because the courts agree with us too."
But as public outcry over the violence at Trump's rallies has grown, Trump has backtracked on this promise. After John McGraw sucker-punched a black protester in the face at a Trump rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, during the week of March 7, Trump said he had asked his campaign to look into paying for McGraw's legal fees, only to go back on this pledge, Fortune reports.
And Trump's claim that the courts would agree with him when it comes to incidents like these? Complete bogus.
This much was clear when North Carolina police mulled over whether or not to charge Trump for inciting a riot at the rally. And while they decided against it, five deputies who were at the rally have been disciplined and temporarily suspended for pushing the protester -- rather than the assailant (McGraw) -- down to the ground.
Based on Trump's quotes alone, the frenzied and often violent atmosphere at his rallies is undoubtedly being cultivated by the candidate himself. People take actions in such high-energy crowds which they never would as individuals.
A good example of this occurred at a Trump rally in Louisville, Kentucky, in early March. A video of the event shows a 75-year-old Army veteran, Alvin Bamberger, allegedly shoving a young black woman during the event, according to Military.com.
But Bamberger later said he "deeply regretted" the incident and sought to clarify exactly what was going on in the video.
Bamberger wrote a letter detailing his regret for what had happened:
Trump kept saying ‘get them out, get them out' and people in the crowd began pushing and shoving the protestors. Unfortunately a lot of this behavior was happening right next to where I was standing and having been pushed to the floor myself, my emotions got the best of me, and I was caught up in the frenzy. I physically pushed a young woman down the aisle toward the exit, an action I sincerely regret.
Unfortunately my state of mind after being knocked down and hurt myself, and being caught between a group of white supremacists and Black Lives Matter protesters contributed to my behavior however, there is no excuse for my actions.
Bamberger's experience reminds us that while Trump supporters and protesters who engage in violence should claim responsibility for their actions, those very actions are less under the control of the individual than we may think. It starts with a tone of fear and divisiveness, which is being promoted by Trump himself.
And now, as the Republican Convention in Cleveland nears, it looks like it could be the single most explosive political event since the 1968 Democratic Convention, Gawker reports. Trump has already given the tacit acceptance of the fact that "there may be a riot" at the Convention.
Time and time again, Trump has attacked anyone who has dared to oppose him. Be it fellow presidential candidates, members of the media, or protesters, Trump has set the example for his supporters: If someone doesn't agree with you, knock them down.
And while Trump may only use his words to strike people, it's no surprise that his inflammatory rhetoric has inspired his devotees to take physical action.
If Trump plans to be the President of the United States, he needs to not only learn how to work with people who disagree with him but also take responsibility for his actions. He is responsible for the escalating violence at his rallies, and as a leader, he must step up, admit it, and put an end to this destructive behavior.